From the toll plaza at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, US-60 heads east along Atlantic Avenue, passing through the woodland waterfront of First Landing State Park before winding up at the ocean and Virginia Beach (pop. 437,994), the state’s most populous city and its one and only beach resort. Ten-story hotels line the main drag, Atlantic Avenue, which is plastered with large signs banning cars from “cruising” the mile-long array of funfairs, surf shops, and nightclubs.

Unlike many coastal towns, Virginia Beach also boasts a significant history. Virginia’s first colonists landed at Virginia Beach on April 26, 1607, before settling upriver at Jamestown; the site is marked by a stone cross at Cape Henry, at the southern lip of Chesapeake Bay. Five miles south, the excellent Virginia Aquarium (717 General Booth Blvd., 757/385-3474, daily, $28 adults) holds nearly a million gallons with sharks, sting rays, barracudas, and sea turtles, plus an IMAX theater ($9 extra).

Along with the beaches and the aquarium, one of the big attractions in Virginia Beach is breakfast, thanks to the fantastic range of places up and down Atlantic Avenue, like the awesome Pocahontas Pancakes (3420 Atlantic Ave. at 35th St., 757/428-6352).

But perhaps the best reason to stop at Virginia Beach is that accommodations are so much cheaper here than out on the Outer Banks: Angie’s Hostel (302 24th St., 757/491-1830, dorm beds $20) has dorm beds, and the same owners offer reasonably priced rooms at the adjacent Ocean Cove Motel (300 24th St., 757/491-1830, $80 and up). Campers will appreciate the fine facilities, including beaches, coastal wetlands, hiking trails, and kayaking routes, at the nearly 3,000-acre First Landing State Park (757/412-2300).